In 1969, a lot of the world believed Paul McCartney of the Beatles to be dead. Seeing as he is still making music today, that is clearly not the case. How did the “Paul is dead” rumors begin and what “clues” did the Beatles leave for their conspiracy theory fans to obsess over? Let’s take a look.
The myth held that on November 9th, 1966, Paul had gotten into a car accident and died. He was then replaced by a look-alike who stood in for all the subsequent album covers. Fans drew on evidence from song lyrics as well as album art. Here are some examples of lyrics that intimated at Paul’s demise:
- The opening words of Got To Get You Into My Life: “I was alone, I took a ride, I didn’t know what I would find there”.
- The line “He didn’t notice that the lights had changed” from A Day in the Life.
- The opening line of She’s Leaving Home, which highlighted the moment of the accident: “Wednesday morning at 5 o’clock as the day begins”.
- The suppression of the story in the news found its way into Lady Madonna: “Wednesday morning papers didn’t come”.
- At the end of Strawberry Fields Forever, Lennon can be heard muttering “cranberry sauce”. This was misheard as “I buried Paul”.
- “Bury my body” and “Oh untimely death” appeared in the radio feed towards the end of I Am The Walrus, taken from a BBC production of King Lear.
- At the end of I’m So Tired, John Lennon mutters “Monsieur, monsieur, monsieur, how about another one?” When played backwards, this was interpreted by some as “Paul is dead, man, miss him, miss him”.
- “I’m sorry that I doubted you, I was so unfair/You were in a car crash and you lost your hair” – from Ringo’s Don’t Pass Me By.
- The line “Find me in my field of grass” in Mother Nature’s Son was taken as a reference to a cemetery.
- There is the sound of a car crash, followed by an explosion, in Revolution 9.
- The same song, when played backwards, is said to contain the repeated phrase “Turn me on, dead man”.
- “And so I quit the police department”, a line from She Came In Through The Bathroom Window, supposedly referred to William Campbell’s alleged former career in Ontario, Canada (see the Sgt Pepper visual clues on the next page).
People also drew on the album covers of Magical Mystery Tour, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Abbey Road to provide proof of Paul’s death. The rumors hold that the outfits of the four Beatles reveal a hint that Paul had passed: John Lennon is wearing white to symbolize a priest or spiritual figure; Ringo is next wearing black to represent an undertaker; George Harrison is fourth in line and wearing denim to symbolize the gravedigger. Several things stick out about Paul’s appearance: he is the only one not wearing shoes, his eyes are closed, and he is out of step with the other three band members. These observations were taken as a subtle clue that Paul was no longer “walking among us.” In addition, Paul is holding a cigarette in his right hand. McCartney was left-handed, so this observation led many people to believe that a look-alike had been used instead of Paul for this photoshoot.
The Paul is Dead rumors largely dissipated after this edition of LIFE magazine featured pictures of Paul with his family. Paul said in this article: “Perhaps the rumour started because I haven’t been much in the press lately. I have done enough press for a lifetime, and I don’t have anything to say these days. I am happy to be with my family and I will work when I work. I was switched on for ten years and I never switched off. Now I am switching off whenever I can. I would rather be a little less famous these days.”